Black Rock Atlas

Micah Epstein

Burning Man is a magical place that gets the best of human creativity and collaboration to flourish. To further understand what makes this magic happen, we are creating the first ever Black Rock Atlas—a map of the social patterns and networks that exist on the playa.

To do this, we are tracking the decentralized journey of a multitude of vessels through the gift economy of Burning Man with GPS technology and generative photography. We designed location-tracking vessels that we routed through Burning Man towards the goal of finding a particular person. Along the way, the vessels logged individual information and GPS data. 

The experiment was a play on Milgram's small world experiment, which routed letters through the US and established the concept of "six degrees of separation." Through tracking the voyage of the vessels across the desert, we were able to quantitatively map the connectivity of the Burning Man community and qualitatively understand how people engage with Burning Man culture.

Our results that Burning Man's 10 Principles are powerful in facilitating cooperative organization.  Through their voyage across the desert, we saw how these principles, such as Radical-Self Expression, Leave No Trace, and Radical Participation, create norms and infrastructure for prosocial behavior.